Urgent action required on 'the greatest epidemic'

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One of the world's leading experts on diabetes has slammed Australia's use of "60-year-old drugs" as first-line treatments for the disease impacting around two million people.

Speaking at a parliamentary dinner in Canberra last night, marking the 60th anniversary of Diabetes Australia, Monash University's Professor Paul Zimmet AO, lamented national treatment guidelines that, "...direct that doctors should choose metformin as first-line therapy along with sulphonyureas – both drugs developed 60 years ago!"

"I think cancer and infectious disease specialists and their patients would be very angry if they would be directed by government that the first drugs they can use, as is the case for diabetes, are 60 years old," he said.

According to Professor Zimmet, recent innovations, including SGLT-2 inhibitors and injectable GLP-1 agonists, have been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease and kidney disease, and death by around 50 per cent. 

Yet, he said, "...in 2017, here we are in diabetes still using 60-year-old drugs as first line. It is time to drop the old 'FX Holden-model' treatment diabetes guidelines and generate new, modern treatment guidelines."

The dinner was attended by health minister Greg Hunt, Labor leader Bill Shorten, and a number of other parliamentarians representing all sides of politics.

In a speech, Mr Hunt announced the appointment of a committee to accelerate implementation of the National Diabetes Strategy. The committee will be co-chaired by Judi Moylan AO, president and chair of Diabetes Australia, and Professor Zimmet.

Professor Zimmet welcomed the minister's announcement in the context of "the history of government promises to tackle diabetes is worrying."

He said, "Several previous national strategies have been shelved," and finished by calling for urgent action on "the greatest epidemic" Australia has ever faced.